Tips for Outsourcing as a Game Developer

Playraven is a Finnish games studio like few others. They currently employ 14 people full-time, but focus has always been on spotting outsourcing possibilities whenever they arise in order to always have the best of the best people working on the studio’s games.

 For Playraven CEO and Co-founder, Lasse Seppänen, outsourcing certain areas of the game development process is very advantageous not only for the company as a whole, but also for the studio’s full-time employees.

“We really want to keep the internal team as lean and focused as possible, so outsourcing is very important for us. In the past we have mainly outsourced concept art, illustrations and 3D models but we’re constantly on the lookout for other outsourcing possibilities. “, Lasse Seppänen explains to NordicGameBits.

While Playraven would certainly want to outsource even more in the future, there are there are certain areas that the studio would prefer to keep in-house, Seppänen continues. “We would love to do more but of course there are parts of game development that are very iterative in nature and thus difficult to outsource.”

 

There are several arguments for using outsourcing such as potentially lower employment costs, and more flexibility. For Playraven, however, the main reason for outsourcing is that it allows the studio to hire only the very best people within a range of development-related areas.

Playraven's latest game, Spymaster

Playraven’s latest game, Spymaster

“Our quest for high quality is a big driver for outsourcing.”, Seppänen explains. In addition, different projects have different needs in terms of content and style, “and by outsourcing we can hire different concept artists so that their individual strengths match the needs of each project.”

Arguably, some would still say that if you had the money, why not just hire these expert artists full-time? But Seppänen warns about full-time employing people that you may not need in the long run, as it will ruin the team spirit and eventually harm your company.

 

“If we hired a lot of highly specialized people, they might end up having a lot of downtime. We simply don’t need illustrations produced every day. In effect, they would be waiting for their turn to do something meaningful and that’s bad for everyone’s spirits.”, Seppänen says.

 

Lasse Seppänen, CEO and Founder of Playraven

Lasse Seppänen, CEO and Founder of Playraven

Outsourcing can go wrong, but as with mostly everything else related to team management, proper communication is the key to success.  “Communication is key at all stages in outsourcing. If you’re not communicating clearly and with high frequency, you run a lot of risks. Typically when communications fails, wasted work and unnecessary iteration happens. It’s no wonder that the outsourcer did something wrong if they were not clearly guided to do the right things!”, Seppänen says.

 

Predicting the outcome of outsourcing is impossible, but with a long track record of successfully outsourced jobs, Lasse Seppänen and Playraven do have a few tips for other studios who are considering outsourcing.

  1. Put a lot of effort into your first briefing. Think carefully about wording, take the time to draft something yourself, or photoshop on top of googled images. Try to look at your briefing with fresh eyes – what if I knew nothing about the project, would I really be able to work based on this briefing? Ideally, have both a written briefing and a Q&A conference call with the vendor to make sure they understand it correctly.
  2. Treat each feedback round with full mindshare. If you give poor or incomplete feedback in the middle, you can’t expect the end result to be perfect.
  3. If things go wrong, first try to enhance communication. Have extra calls, do more and even clearer mockup photoshopping etc. If possible, travel to the vendor’s office with your relevant people to find out if it’s a fixable issue or not. I’ve done this in the past and it has helped tremendously.
Authors
Sune Thorsen

Sune is not only a gamer and writer who wishes his keyboard-typing-speed would translate directly into Nintendo 64 controller agility, but also the co-founder and CEO of NordicGameBits.

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